Monday, 30 June 2014

Stillborn

for David and Catherine Bailey

I drench my cheeks for you, my child,
Who bore with my expectancy
A reverie of pleasantries,
Adrift before I saw you smile.
This loss brings desolation true
For all of us you never knew.

Your tragedy has plagued my heart:
I fell from thrilled euphoria
To grief itself, then nausea,
Where happiness was torn apart.
This grief would not disturb my nights
If you had had the chance to fight.

For then I’d say At least you felt
The love I always held for you,
And felt the joys of feeling too;
But no, the cards that I’ve been dealt
Reveal the sorrows of my lot:
Dejection, and an empty cot.

Women in Chaucer's "The Canterbury Tales"

The Canterbury Tales were written by Geoffrey Chaucer at the end of the fourteenth century. The Tales are presented as part of a story-telling contest as the pilgrims make their way to the shrine of Saint Thomas Beckett in Canterbury. The ‘collection of tales’ was a very popular structural device in Chaucer’s time, and indeed The Canterbury Tales are said to resemble Boccaccio’s The Decameron. However, Chaucer’s magnum opus seems to be the first work to depict a group of pilgrims and a story-telling contest. Chaucer’s pilgrims are from all walks of life (The Knight, The Miller, The Cook) and this allows him to represent a plethora of different social groups and classes, meaning he can paint a critical portrait of English society. Chaucer wrote in the vernacular, whereas most (but not all) writers preferred to write in Latin or French (the language of the court, of which Chaucer was a part). The reason Chaucer’s poetry has transcended time is because of the linguistic skill he possessed and his ability to express himself in his own tongue. He wasn’t the only writer to write in Middle English, but he was certainly one of the best.

By making himself one of the pilgrims, Chaucer becomes less of an omnipotent narrator and more a part of the story itself. This, as Valerie Allen writes, means that his “own stance on the issues he raises is hidden within a complex creation of masks and disguises.” Therefore, Chaucer can comment on and criticise any part of society without fear of punishment, because it almost seems as if he is not to blame. In fact, Chaucer avoids responsibility for some tales completely. Before the Miller’s tale, he says that he thinks he should “reherce it heree” as if it is not his own creation, and he goes on to say:

                      “…but for I moot reherce
Hir tales alle, be they bettre or werse,
Or elles falsen som of my mateere.”

He completely avoids responsibility for any radical opinions he may be voicing, claiming that he is simply fulfilling his obligation to his fellow pilgrims. He writes: “Blameth nat me if that ye chese amys. / The millere is a cherl, ye knowe wel this…”And so we can take it for granted that Chaucer was completely honest and did not hold back: he had no reason to. A number of the tales have been categorised by critics depending on their topic of discussion: some tales discuss marriage, some religion, others ‘gentillesse’. This essay shall examine the ways in which Chaucer presents his views on women, marriage and love as a whole, and it shall discuss the proposition that Chaucer was what we would call a feminist.

The obvious place to start is Alisoun, infamously known as The Wife of Bath. She is a weaver who sells cloth, but this is not her only source of income. In her Prologue (which, incidentally, is about four times as long as her tale) she explains that she has acquired most of her money from husbands, of which she has had five. The first four were much older than her, but the fifth was almost half her age. She is very blatant about her methods, and explains that she controls her old husbands by sleight of hand and deceit. She says: “I broghte it so aboute by my wit / That they moste yeve it up…” She is described as having ‘maistrie’ over her first four husbands just as Mrs Elton controls Mr Elton in Austen’s Emma. In this way, The Wife of Bath could be seen as a pioneer in the feminist movement; she even turns on its head the medieval belief that men have more reason than women, and uses the theory against itself:

            “Oon of us two moste bowen, douteless;
            And sith a man is moore reasonable
            Than woman is, ye moste been suffrable.”

Her dominance over her husbands suggests that she is rejecting medieval etiquette and beliefs, and Chaucer himself could be showing his support for female emancipation. The sharp spurs she wears accentuate her authority. Moreover, the fact that she has her own beliefs and disregards certain tenets of the Church (she ignores Jesus’ teachings to the women at the well) shows her as a strong-minded and free-thinking individual. She is, therefore, a determined feminist. And although she was kept under control by her last husband, she soon gains her freedom by pretending to be dead after he hits her. We applaud the Wife for her use of wit and confrontation of established male dominance. We also applaud her for her confrontation of Biblical Texts; she claims that the Bible does not condemn promiscuity, citing Solomon (amongst others), who had a number of wives.

The Wife of Bath, as well as being a feminine figure to be revered (or even feared), could also be seen as a sympathetic character. She is old, single, and in search of a new husband to look after her. Moreover, she is not described as particularly attractive (she is a large woman with a gap between her teeth). The reader therefore sympathises with her in her almost futile quest for a husband. Her tale, when she gets around to it, depicts an old woman finding love and marriage with a young Knight, and then becoming young again – this is exactly what The Wife of Bath desires to do herself. The Arthurian age which she selects for her tale suggests that The Wife of Bath is living in a fairy-tale world where old-women can magically transform into pretty maidens. In fact, Ian Bishop described the tale as “an unconscious ritual act of self-fulfilment”. The Wife of Bath is nostalgic about her youth:

“But, Lord Crist! whan that it remembreth me
Upon my yowthe, and on my jolitee,
It tikleth me aboute myn herte roote.
Unto this day it dooth myn herte boote
That I have had my world as in my tyme.
But age, allas! that al wole envenyme,
Hath me biraft my beautee and my pith.
Lat go, farewel! the devel go therwith!
The flour is goon, ther is namoore to telle…”

Chaucer could be showing his sympathy for the plight of old and single women, and the above passage suggests that the reader ought to pity and show kindness to women like The Wife of Bath, who are taken advantage of for their money and then deserted.

However, many critics have used The Wife of Bath in order to present Chaucer as an anti-feminist. Many have claimed that Chaucer’s depiction of the Wife’s deceptive and manipulative nature would have been seen by the contemporary reader as a reason not to trust women, rather than as a plea for equality. Moreover, the Wife is seen as a particularly comic figure. Her ‘long preamble of a tale’ is extremely drawn out and, because it is so dramatized and colloquial, is said to be far more interesting than the tale itself as a piece of writing; this, in itself, is comic. Her five husbands and her blatant rejection of Orthodox norms would have been seen as not only outrageous but extremely funny. Chaucer could, therefore, be warning the reader against letting women have freedom and emancipation, lest we find ourselves being dominated by women such as the Wife – thus he would be an anti-feminist. Chaucer never allows the reader to make a finite decision about the Wife – we see her as cruel and domineering, as well as pitiable and sympathetic. She is, in herself, a conundrum.

Another tale that is commonly discussed by feminist critics is the Merchant’s Tale. Both the Miller and the Merchant rejoice in vulgarity and impropriety. The Merchant is a wholly misanthropic man, and indeed his prologue complains about marriage; he claims: “We wedded men lyven in sorwe and care.” In fact, his whole tale seeks to show the deceptive nature and scheming of women. Ian Bishop writes:

“The outrageous anecdote that supplies the plot for the Merchant’s Tale purports to show that an erring wife will always find a ‘suffisant answere’ for her husband, even when caught in the act with her lover.”

This would, therefore, suggest that Chaucer was an anti-feminist, and this would be completely believable were it not for the reader’s sympathy for May, the young wife of the old January. She has been forced into marriage with an old and incapable Knight and does not love him as he loves her. The Merchant tells the pilgrims:

“The slake skyn aboute his nekke shaketh,
Whil that he sang, so chaunteth he and craketh.
But God woot what that May thoughte in hir herte,
Whan she hym saugh up sittynge in his sherte,
In his nyght-cappe, and with his nekke lene;
She preyseth nat his pleyyng worth a bene.”

Moreover, January is ignorant of his wife’s discontent, as he sees marriage as little more than “the occasion for licensed lust” (Bishop). Should the reader pity May’s situation? She is in a loveless marriage with an old and somewhat ignorant man. Chaucer could be supporting a woman’s rights to choose her own husband.

However, the reader also sympathises with January. He loves his wife so devoutly and sincerely that it seems impossible to dislike him. Unaware, he bends down for May to lift her into the tree (so that she can commit adultery), and this suggests his submittal to her every will. He says to May:

“‘For Goddes sake, thenk how I thee chees,
Noght for no coveitise, doutelees,
But oonly for the love I had to thee.
And though that I be oold, and may nat see,
Beth to me trewe, and I wol telle yow why.
Thre thynges, certes, shal ye wynne therby:
First, love of Crist, and to youreself honour,
And al myn heritage, toun and tour…’”

The reader pities January not only because he loves her so much, but because his love is completely unrequited. There is, therefore, a conundrum of sympathies – both the characters are sympathetic to the reader. Moreover, can he really be blamed for his helplessness and stupidity? January is made even more sympathetic by Chaucer’s presentation of May later on in the tale. She is both a hypocrite and a liar:

“‘I have,’ quod she, ‘a soule for to kepe
As wel as ye, and also myn honour,
And of my wyfhod thilke tendre flour,
Which that I have assured in youre hond,
Whan that the preest to yow my body bond…’”

These sentiments, although sweet and kind, are insincere, as demonstrated by her adulterous actions with Damyan, the young squire. May commits adultery with Damyan at the first opportunity, and indeed she takes advantage of her husband’s trust (he trusts her to go to Damyan’s bedside). She is therefore seen as a scheming, disingenuous woman, and Bishop notes that she “hardly needs the supernatural promptings of Proserpina to supply her with her ‘suffisant answere’.” He goes on to write: “She has no difficulty in persuading her husband, who is so susceptible to ‘heigh fantasye’.” Even though the tale ends with a reference to Mary (“God blesse us, and his mooder Seinte Maire”), there is undoubtedly a presence of the flawed Eve. Chaucer could indeed be criticising women for their deception, but he could also be criticising the tendency of older men to seek and marry younger wives to satisfy their needs. The Merchant’s tale of adultery and harlotry could stand as a warning to the ‘Senex amans’ figure, as could The Wife of Bath’s prologue.

Another tale that ought to be discussed is that of the Franklin. Bishop explained that the similarities between the Merchant’s Tale and the Franklin’s Tale “merely have the effect of indicating essential differences between the two tales.” The heroines of each tale are completely different from one another: May is adulterous, Dorigen is faithful. The fact that Dorigen stays committed to her husband throughout his long absence slightly contradicts what the other pilgrims have said about marriage, and indeed it suggests that many women can be trusted. However, many feminist critics have pointed out that the tale is not simply an appraisal of Dorigen’s fidelity. Dorigen has been labelled stupid and dim-witted by a number of critics. They suggest that when she makes ‘in pley’ her offer to love Aurelius, she is making a huge mistake, and that it is her fault entirely. Although this argument is weak, she can still be held accountable for the predicament she finds herself in, and her error could represent the female’s lack of reason. The fact that she only escapes her predicament by doing ‘as myn [Dorigen’s] housbounde bad’ could indeed suggest that women ought to be subjected to the orders of their husbands, a very common view in Chaucer’s patriarchal society. Dorigen is only freed because she is under her husband’s command. The tale ends with the Franklin asking who was ‘mooste fre’, meaning both free as well as generous. The reader is unsure of the answer, but it is certainly not Dorigen: she is sent between the two men under their orders and is, at one point, depicted praying on her knees to one of them. Thus, again, Chaucer could be supporting male dominance.

The Miller’s tale is very like that of the Merchant’s in that the young wife is committing adultery with a younger man while the older husband is ignorant. As aforementioned, this could suggest the female nature to be deceptive and adulterous. It is very interesting that the only person left unscathed at the end of the tale is the young adulterous wife. The old carpenter is left with broken limbs, Absalom has been tricked and the young scholar has a scalded bum. Chaucer could again be warning us against female deception, suggesting that the benefits of adultery are only truly felt by women. However, the men of the tale are depicted as incredibly stupid and foolish, whereas the carpenter’s wife use her wit and intelligence very skilfully. She is able to use her sexual attraction as a lure, and indeed she tricks all the men of the tale. Whether this is Chaucer’s way of praising female individuality and intelligence is unsure.

Chaucer’s discussion of women is endless, and this essay has only broken the surface. However, The Canterbury Tales is by no means a feminist or anti-feminist collection of poems. In fact, Chaucer is extremely equal-handed in his tackling of the subject of female emancipation. He keeps the scales moving, never showing his true beliefs. The reader is constantly left asking questions, and this is one of Chaucer’s greatest techniques.

Wisdom and Foolishness in "King Lear"

Foolishness, blindness and lack of sanity feature throughout Shakespeare’s play. The theme of ignorance and madness is reflected in the play’s chaotic and seemingly unjust finale. A number of King Lear’s characters demonstrate the gradual transfiguration from wisdom into foolishness, or from foolishness into wisdom. These transformations not only mark the fragility of the human mind, but also the true impotence of humans, be they Kings or peasants, in the eyes of nature and Fortune.

King Lear begins the play metaphorically blind to the truth. He orders his daughters to declare their love for him so that the “largest bounty may extend / Where nature doth with merit challenge.” He is deceived by Goneril and Regan’s insincere and exaggerated protestations of love. Goneril claims that she loves him more than “word can wield the matter”, and Regan declares: “…I am alone felicitate / In your dear highness’ love.” Only Cordelia’s love is honest and true (she says: “I am sure my love’s / More ponderous than my tongue…”), and yet she is banished. Lear’s blindness to the truth is emphasised by his ignoring of Kent’s interruptions (“Peace, Kent!”), and indeed the fact that he takes Cordelia’s honesty for pride: “Let pride, which she calls plainness, marry her.” Kent even goes so far as to call Lear mad (prophesising the play’s later events) and accuse him of rashness. Kent also adds that those “whose low sounds / Reverb no hollowness” are not empty-hearted. Here he is suggesting that Cordelia’s modest protestation of love is sincere, and that Goneril and Regan’s are not. Lear’s metaphorical blindness is also demonstrated by his demands for both Cordelia and Kent to get out of his sight, to which Kent replies: “See better, Lear; and let me still remain / The true blank of thine eye.” France even refers to Lear’s actions and immediate loss of love for his daughter as “most strange”. Shakespeare is clearly keen to insinuate the foolish and imprudent nature of Lear’s decisions.

The Fool’s strange and occasionally incomprehensible speeches help the King to slowly realise his mistake. The Fool seems to know from the start that Lear was wrong, and indeed he claims that “wise men [Lear] are grown foppish”. He goes onto say:

                                                    “…for when thou gav’st them the
            rod and putt’st down thine own breeches,
                                Then they for sudden joy did weep,
                                     And I for sorrow sung,
                                 That such a king should play bo-peep,
                                     And go the fools among.

It is almost as if the two men’s roles have swapped around: while the Fool knows the truth, Lear is still ignorant and has himself become the Fool. The King then begins to question why his daughters are treating him so cruelly, saying: “Does any here know me? This is not Lear: / Does Lear walk thus? speak thus? Where are his eyes?” and indeed this reference to his eyes emphasises his previous blindness. He then admits: “I did her [Cordelia] wrong…” Thus his blindness is slowly lifted. Moreover, Lear’s argument with Kent in Act 2 Scene 4 shows his steady realisation of his daughters’ cruelty. His repeated exclamations (“You!” and “Return with her!”) when talking with Regan and Goneril demonstrate his surprise and outrage. The Fool’s wisdom of Lear’s mistake suggests that, despite being a King, Lear can still be a Fool. In fact, the Fool says to Lear: “Thou should’st not have been old till thou hadst been wise.”

Lear’s realisation of the truth and emergence from his metaphorical blindness is, however, accompanied by his slow descent into madness. The first hint of the threat to his sanity comes with his exclamations: “O! let me not be mad, not mad, sweet heaven; / Keep me in temper; I would not be mad!” Furthermore, in Act 2 Scene 4 the King ironically says to Goneril: “I prithee, daughter, do not make me mad…” and that is exactly what his daughters’ cruelty does. The storm that Lear is inevitably forced to face in Act 3 not only represents the chaos and madness of his mind, but also the chaos that his Kingdom has descended into. Now that Lear has given up his authority, the country is at the mercy of the play’s villains. Lear’s descent into madness becomes ever more obvious throughout the storm scene, beginning with his refusal to enter the hovel:

                                               “…this tempest in my mind
            Doth from my senses take all feeling else
            Save what beats there – filial ingratitude!”

He goes onto exclaim: “O that way madness lies! let me shun that; / No more of that…” and his swift change of mind again shows the turbulence of his thoughts. Then, at Edgar’s appearance, Lear is completely overtaken by madness, asking Edgar whether he too gave all his possessions to his daughters.

His speech then becomes almost incomprehensible; however, Lear’s madness is marked by his deepening sensitivity to other people, possibly caused by his exposure to human cruelty. For example he prays to the gods to help “poor naked wretches, wheresoe’er you are, / That bide the pelting of this pitiless storm.” He reproaches himself for his heartlessness, and attempts to tear his clothes off to show that clothing offers no protection from Fortune and the gods. He realises that only garments mark the difference between a King and a beggar (Edgar), and that everyone must face the world’s cruelties. Moreover he sympathises with the Fool, asking him if he is cold, saying: “I have one part in my heart / That’s sorry yet for thee.” Thus, since his metaphorical blindness, Lear has moved from arrogance and pride, to humility and pity. In many ways Lear is growing wiser, rather than more foolish. For instance, despite his mad ramblings he is still able to determine the cause of his woe (“filial ingratitude!”), and to differentiate the storm of his thoughts from the physical storm around him. In fact, Edgar notes that Lear’s apparent ramblings are “matter and impertinency mixed! / Reason in madness!” For example, it is only in his madness that Lear realises: “They flattered me like a dog… To say ‘aye’ and ‘no’ to everything that I said!” Moreover, just as in the storm he realised no amount of clothing or power can protect you from life’s cruelty, so he realises that flattery and praise can save nobody: “Through tattered clothes small vices do appear; / Robes and furred gowns hide all.” It is only in his madness and foolishness that Lear actually speaks wisdom: now that he is released from the trappings of wealth, he can see the truth.

Gloucester, too, begins the play in metaphorical blindness. He is tricked by Edmund’s forged letter and manipulative plans. Edgar, however, truly loves his father. Gloucester’s great error is made clear by Edmund’s words:

            “A credulous father, and a noble brother,
            Whose nature is so far from doing harms
            That he suspects none; on whose foolish honesty
            My practices ride easy!”

Thus both Lear and Gloucester mistake the unloving for the loving, banishing the loyal children and making their disloyal, cruel children their heirs. Edgar, tricked by Edmund, is then forced to flee into hiding, while Gloucester is completely fooled by Edmund’s manipulations. Again Shakespeare is demonstrating that despite Gloucester’s wealth and title, he can still be foolish.

Just as Lear realises his mistake as he turns mad, Gloucester only discovers Edmund’s trickery once he is blind. Gloucester’s gruesome (Cornwall cries: “Out, vile jelly!”) blinding marks a turning point in the play: cruelty, betrayal and even madness are reversible, but blindness is not. The play’s chaos and confusion are now irreversible. After his eyes have been gouged out, Gloucester ironically calls: “Where’s my son Edmund?” Regan then reveals that it was Edmund who was the treacherous and plotting son, saying: “Thou call’st on him that hates thee; it was he / That made the overture of thy treasons to us, / Who is too good to pity thee.” Thus, as he is made blind he is simultaneously made to see the truth, and he exclaims: “O my follies! Then Edgar was abus’d.” This realisation is almost identical to that of Lear when he laments: “I did her wrong…” Both Lear and Gloucester’s errors are epitomised in Gloucester’s words:

“I stumbled when I saw. Full oft ‘tis seen,
Our means secure us, and our mere defects
Prove our commodities.”

Edgar is another character who moves in and out of sanity, although he is pretending. After his banishment, Edgar assumes the identity of poor mad Tom, who is haunted by devils and “foul fiends”. However Edgar’s ravings are so convincing, and the environment of the plain so unusual and haunting that we are unsure whether his madness is really feigned. This is also because of the similarities between his and Lear’s (who actually is mad) situations; in fact, Edgar says: “He childed as I fathered.” Both have been exiled, albeit for different reasons, one by their father, the other by their children. It is Edgar’s nakedness that aids Lear’s humanization, and indeed Lear takes an immediate liking to Edgar, possibly because of his craziness. He says: “With him; / I will keep still with my philosopher.” Why Edgar continues to feign his madness when leading his father to the Dover cliffs is unsure, but it is probably for this reason: by letting Gloucester think that he fell from the cliff but was miraculously saved, Edgar is giving meaning to his father’s life. Before he tried to kill himself, Gloucester saw life as nothing but a game of the gods: “As flies to wanton boys, are we to th’gods; / They kill us for their sport.” But afterwards, Gloucester accepts Edgar’s explanation that the gods have preserved him, and he resolves to endure his blindness and suffering. The play’s subplot of Edgar and Gloucester shows that anybody can be a fool, and that it is only once foolishness is realised that true wisdom is found.

Shakespeare makes such obvious use of the wisdom-foolishness parallel in order to reinforce the play’s ultimate message: that all are equal to nature. This truth is only realised by King Lear in the midst of his madness, and indeed both Lear and Gloucester only realise the truth once they become ‘fools’ (e.g. mad and blind). Perhaps this is Shakespeare’s way of bringing to life the famous line in his play As You Like It: “The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.” Lear and Gloucester begin the play as fools thinking they are wise, but end the play wise, in the knowledge that they are fools. The Fool, however, is wise throughout, and there is truth in his seemingly silly ramblings. It seems as if only those whose speech is crazed and incomprehensible actually speak any reason. It is only once they realise that they are under nature’s control and have escaped the trappings of power and wealth that they begin to speak truth. As Edgar notes, there is reason in madness.

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Plato and Aristotle on the Soul



Aristotle was a student of Plato’s at The Academy in Athens, and it was there that Aristotle’s beliefs diverged from those of his tutor. This distinction in beliefs is famously depicted by Raphael’s painting Scuola di Atene. Plato, who is often regarded as the founder of Western Philosophy, is shown pointing upwards, demonstrating the precedence he places on a priori reasoning and the metaphysical, whereas Aristotle’s hand faces the ground, showing his reliance on empiricism and the knowledge one can gain from the natural world. Plato believed in two distinct worlds: our world, the world of appearances, and the world of the forms. Aristotle, on the other hand, saw our world and our lives as final, not believing in an afterlife or any distinct realm. Although Aristotle believed in a supernatural Prime Mover, this being had no direct interaction with our world and gave no evidence for a life beyond death. Thus Aristotle was much more concerned with the world around us and what we can learn from it, while Plato believed more in the metaphysical; this perhaps explains their differing views on the soul’s mortality.

Plato and Aristotle were both dualists in that they both believed that we have two elements, a body and a soul. Their ideas largely stem from beliefs passed down by pre-Socratic thinkers living in Greece. Pythagoras and Homer both had a huge influence on Plato’s theory of the soul, particularly on his beliefs about the soul’s immortality. In Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey characters visit the underworld and meet the souls of those who have died. Thus for Homer, and indeed for many Greek thinkers, the soul is what endures in the underworld after death. The fact that certain souls are recognisable to characters like Odysseus who venture down to the underworld suggests that a person’s identity and personality are to be found in the soul. Pythagoras also believed that the personality was a part of the soul, and indeed that the soul was immortal and continued after death. However for Pythagoras the soul did not simply remain in the underworld; rather it entered other bodies and continued living as the same person but in another form, whether that form is of a human or a plant.

Plato drew on these beliefs and concluded that the human soul is eternal. He also referred to the human person as a soul imprisoned in a body, explaining his belief that the soul is an entirely separate and independent entity. Plato attempted to support these claims in his work the Phaedo. He presents four different arguments for the souls existence. The first argument, the Argument from Opposites, observes that everything comes to be from out of its opposite. Therefore, since life and death are opposites one can reason analogously that, just as the living become dead, so the dead must become living; thus the soul must be immortal. His second argument, the Theory of Recollection, states that learning is simply a process of recollecting things one knows before birth. This would therefore suggest that the soul exists before birth (to see the Forms), and so is eternal. The most notable argument, the Argument from Affinity, distinguishes between two types of things: things which can be destroyed (material objects), and things which cannot be destroyed (non-perceptible, intelligible things, like the Forms). Since the soul is intelligible but not perceptible, it must also be indestructible, and thus eternal. Finally, the Argument from the Form of Life argues that all things participate in their Forms (e.g. beautiful things participate in the Form of beauty), and since the soul, by its very nature, participates in the Form of Life, it must be eternal. For these reasons, largely based on his Theory of the Forms, Plato is adamant that the soul is immortal.

Aristotle, however, viewed the soul very differently, presenting his views in his work De Anima. Although he was a dualist, he did not see the soul as completely independent from the body. Rather, for Aristotle the soul could not exist without a body to animate. Heraclitus, the Greek philosopher known for his aphorism “You could not step twice into the same river”, also believed that the soul is what animates the body. The soul, for Heraclitus, was linked to the body and is part of it, rather than being completely distinct. He said that because we need the body and senses to gain knowledge, so the soul and the body must be connected. Aristotle, who referred to the soul as the ‘anima’, saw the soul as very similar to the mind in that it is the difference between a living body and a dead corpse. The body and soul are separate, but cannot be separated. For him, the soul is the “cause and principle of the living body”. Aristotle also saw the soul as the imprint or recognisability of the body; for instance, he says that if the eye were a body, its soul would be its capacity to see. Thus he did not believe that the soul is eternal; however, his thoughts are rather inconsistent, since he does suggest that intellectual thought continues after death.

Both philosophers, as well as disagreeing over the mortality of the soul, also disagreed over the characteristics of the soul. Plato maintained that the soul is rational and that it is affected negatively by material things (or, as he says, when it “attends to perceptibles”). The soul works with the mind to overcome this dizziness. In order to explain his beliefs about the soul, Plato used the Chariot Analogy: he said that the soul was a chariot driver driving two horses, the mind and the body. These horses pull in different directions. It is the soul’s job to control them and ensure that they work in harmony. The ultimate goal for the soul is to achieve harmony and thus gain knowledge of the World of the Forms. However, the body distracts the soul from this goal:

“The body is the source of endless trouble to us by reason of the mere requirement for food… It fills us full of loves, and lusts, and fears, and fancies of all kinds, and endless foolery, and in fact, as men say, takes away all power of thinking.” – Plato, Phaedo

In the Republic Plato divides the soul up into three parts, and this belief is known as Plato’s Tripartite Theory of the Soul. He said that the soul was composed of spirit, reason and appetite. Reason is in charge, and it is the part that guides and regulates, working through the mediums of logic and knowledge. Spirit is (more often than not) an ally of reason and controls how we are seen: it is concerned with emotions, honour, motivation, self-assertion and ambition, amongst other things. Appetite is the part of the soul that gives rise to our desires whether they are necessary, unnecessary or perverted. Plato says that sin and crime stem from disharmony of these three parts (i.e. when desire overpowers reason). Whereas in the Phaedo Plato insists that the soul and mind are completely separate, and also that desires are caused by the body not the soul (demonstrated by the chariot analogy), in the Republic he claims that desires too come from the soul, as does reason. Thus his theory of the soul is incomplete and contradictory.

Aristotle, on the other hand, divided the soul into two main parts, and four sub-parts. The two main parts are the Rational (containing the Calculative and Scientific parts) and the Irrational (containing the Desiderative and Vegetative parts). The Calculative part of the soul is the part that is relied on for balancing and weighing up options when decision-making; the Scientific part, on the other hand, searches for a priori truths. The Desiderative part is concerned with what one wants to do, and the Vegetative section is concerned with basic desires (e.g. the desires for food or sex). To function correctly, the soul must be balanced, and true virtue can only be achieved when the soul functions properly. Finally, Aristotle outlined the different faculties of the soul. He believed that there is a hierarchy of faculties, including nutrition, perception, desire, locomotion and intellect. Not all animals have each faculty – it is the faculty of intellect that distinguishes humans from other animals.

For both Plato and Aristotle it is up to the soul to control emotions and desires to ensure harmony. In fact, the idea of balancing desires and controlling emotions is a central part of Aristotle’s Virtue Ethics. When desires are not efficiently controlled, this is known as ‘akrasia’ (a weakening of the will). Despite the similarity of the two men’s beliefs concerning desires and reason within the soul, their beliefs differ dramatically about the soul’s mortality and its characteristics.